The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is extremely appalled that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has not filled vacant posts to the tune of 31 000 across all provinces. This is a result of both mismanagement and austerity policies. Unfilled vacancies have a dire impact on employment conditions and education outcomes.

Concerning the conditions of employment, Educators have work overload as a result of vacancies that are not filled and attrition. Overloaded work contributes to the burnout of Educators even before a quarter of the year comes to an end. Research has shown that all dimensions of burnout such as “mental and physical exhaustion, cynicism, reduced accomplishment, and mental impairment” are caused, among others, by “overworking, tight deadlines, and long hours.”

For instance, if the DBE takes a long time to fill a vacant post after an Educator resigns or goes on retirement, school management often adds his/her subjects onto the workload of other Educators. Many Educators have complained about how this increased work has stressed them since amongst others it shrinks the time they have to attend to administrative tasks of the curriculum and school committees.
That education outcomes are compromised by the unhealthy and unwell state of educators, flows logically. Educators who have mental and physical exhaustion … and mental impairment cannot deliver education services optimally. In addition to this impact, a lower number of Educators at school reduces the number of classrooms. This leads to overcrowding as learners are compressed into one class to meet the workload requirement of Educators as per the administrative measures of government in Basic Education.

The negative consequences of overcrowding have been documented, and clearly, both educators and learners are losers in that environment. Educators cannot teach smoothly since classes are interrupted by too many disciplinary issues including noise, and learners cannot attentively learn when they are crammed and congested. Moreover, Educators cannot give individual learners adequate and special attention in order to address learning barriers from time to time.

Despite being appalled by this state of affairs, we are unsurprised that so many vacant posts have not been filled. It is a direct consequence of fiscal austerity (budget cuts) that is targeted at the public sector as a whole, particularly the compensation bill in the public service. It has been identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the ANC as an area in which fiscal consolidation must be administered.

It is extremely concerning that despite the obvious evidence of the negative impact of fiscal austerity on public services, the government continues to forge ahead with these policies unflinching and uncaring. This is the consequence of having a pro-capitalist neoliberal party in government; it manages the affairs and resources in the interests of private capital, not the people.

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